Has the community around your church has changed, but you are not sure how to respond?
Some say that we live in the age of the “selfie” and are raising a generation aware of how they look, and at the same time they are growing more and more unaware of the world around them. What about your church? If you took a “congregational selfie” and then compared it to a “neighborhood selfie” of the community around your church, what would you find?
For many churches, especially established congregations with years of ministry impact, there will be a significant difference.
In the beginning, the church was a reflection of the community where it was located. There was probably significant and steady growth – as the community grew, the church naturally grew. Many churches might even have been seen as their “community center.”
However, over time, every community begins to change. It may be as simple as the community aging – or as complex as an ethnic, racial, or other socioeconomic change. Whatever the case, the community around the church probably changed…
…but the church didn’t change.
Over time, most churches resist, and even fear change.
The growing disparity between a church and its community was probably subtle – maybe even occurring over several generations. It starts with a few people beginning to move into other parts of the town and no longer making the drive back to their old community. Other events beyond the church’s control take place, like key industry moving out of town and the workforce following. Whatever the cause, the end result is that the church begins to no longer look like the community around it and many leaders are not sure how to respond.
Solution: Adopt an incarnational posture.
THE QUICK SUMMARY – Incarnate: The Body of Christ in an Age of Disengagement, by Michael Frost
The story of Christianity is a story of incarnation:
- God taking on flesh and dwelling among the people He created.
- God appointing and sending people as His body, His hands and feet.
- Disciples of Jesus bearing the good news even as they bear the marks of His passion.
Whatever Christianity is, it is at least a matter of flesh and blood and the ends of the earth.
And yet so much of contemporary Christian culture is rooted not in incarnation but in escape―escape from the earth to heaven, escape from the suffering of this world, escape even from one another. Christianity is increasingly understood as something personal, conceptual, interior, private, and neighborless. If Jesus was God incarnate, the church is in danger of being excarnate.
In Incarnate, Michael Frost expertly and prophetically exposes the gap between the faith we profess and the faith we practice. And he offers new hope for how the church can fulfill its vocation: to be the hands and feet of Christ to one another and to our neighbors, to the ends of the earth and to the end of the age.
A SIMPLE SOLUTION
In a previous Remix, the possibility of a physical exodus of your church’s community was introduced. It may have taken place over several generations, or it could have happened almost overnight.
Even if there has been little physical “leaving” in your community, today’s technology allows anyone to disconnect from reality and be transported almost anywhere in the world, in any time frame, to escape their reality.
How can you lead your church to fight this impulse (both in reality and virtually) and be present in your community?
What are the implications of Christians wishing to countermand the excarnational impulses that pull us up and out of our neighborhoods?
Here are four suggestions for us to adopt the posture, thinking, behavior, and practices of an incarnational body and engage our communities meaningfully and for God’s glory.
Anthropologically (move in). What can we do to become more embedded in our communities, to appreciate their needs, hopes, and yearnings? Moving into the neighborhood is essential. Being able to walk to church isn’t some magical missional practice, but it does ensure that congregations will be an enfleshed presence in their immediate community.
Empathically (listen to them). The church must adopt a posture of active listening, of attentiveness to the disenchantment of our neighbors, in order to know how to offer something more than the deathly, heartless, hedonistic world of secularism.
Collaboratively (partner with them). Who else is invested in meeting the needs of the community and committed to working together in a multidisciplinary manner to meet those needs? If we truly take a kingdom approach to restoring our cities, we should be willing to partner with other churches, businesses, city officials, and social organizations to meet the needs of the city.
Sustainability (stay with them – for a long time). Many church planters or leaders are around long enough to close out their vision before moving on to the next venture. Perception is reality, until we change it. Like a marriage, church leadership should be for the longest time, wedded to a community through thick and thin, come what may.
– Michael Frost, Incarnate
A NEXT STEP
At your next staff meeting, copy and display a map of your church and its community, or draw a simple one on a chart tablet. With the church in the center, draw rings around your church at a 1, 3, and 5-mile diameter. Indicate the location of each member of your team’s house on the map.
After all house locations have been added, reflect on their location in relation to the church. What does where your leadership lives say to you regarding the concept of “move in” or being embedded in the community in which your church is located?
Do you as in individual, or on behalf of the church, participate in any practices that would be categorized as “listen to them”? If so, describe these to the rest of the team. If not, how could you begin to practice active listening in your neighborhood and in your church’s community?
Do you have personal connections with neighborhood or community leaders – do you “partner with them”? Are these connections because they are more related to you as a person or you as a leader in your church? How often do you participate in neighborhood or community gatherings in which local concerns are a topic of discussion? If you regularly participate in such meetings, what do you do with the information you heard? Does any of it filter back to team meetings, ultimately becoming a part of the discussion of fulfilling your church’s mission?
On the same map you drew earlier with staff houses, write a number next to each house indicating the number of years you have lived there. If this number is different than the number of years you have served at the church, write this number in parentheses. After looking at all the information on the map, discuss how this impacts the mission of your church. Are you prepared to “stay with them – for a long time?”
After having these incarnational discussions, create an action plan for strengthening what is working and list the possible next steps toward remedying what isn’t. Plan to revisit this discussion every three months and mark progress on incarnational impact in your community.
Vibrant churches look after the interests of others – starting with their neighbors across the street and around the block. They are involved in community concerns by supporting, if not actually leading, initiatives.
Thriving churches have open doors – open to each and every segment of their community.
If your church is going to remain a vital ministry center in your community, you need to adopt an incarnational posture.
Excerpt taken from SUMS Remix Issue 22-2, published September 2015
Part of a weekly series on 27gen, entitled Wednesday Weekly Reader
Regular daily reading of books is an important part of my life. It even extends to my vocation, where as Vision Room Curator for Auxano I am responsible for publishing SUMS Remix, a biweekly book “summary” for church leaders. I’m going to peruse back issues of both SUMS and SUMS Remix and publish excerpts each Wednesday.
You can find out more information about SUMS Remix here.